Cracks in the support of the Hungarian prime minister

In the last year and a half the cooperation between the government and the Fidesz-Christian Democratic members of parliament was unshakable. Here and there one could hear about some differences of opinion between the two parliamentary delegations on the certain issues, but in the end the disagreements were always smoothed over. Now we are facing a different situation. Cracks are appearing within Fidesz itself over the controversial bill on public education.

I have written so many times about Rózsa Hoffmann, undersecretary in charge of education, and her outlandish ideas that it is not necessary to go into the details here. Most people whose opinion I respect think that the bill in its present form is unacceptable. But an entirely new aspect of the current “uprising” against this bill is that the critics don’t come only from the opposition. Fidesz members of parliament also have grave reservations about it.

Another twist in the controversy is that although earlier we heard about clash after clash between Viktor Orbán and Rózsa Hoffmann over her work on the preparation of the bill, the situation has completely changed of late. It is now Viktor Orbán who stands solidly behind Hoffmann against two rebellious Fidesz members, Zoltán Pokorni and László Posán. Both are considered to be experts on education and both taught: Pokorni as a high school teacher and Posán as an associate professor at the University of Debrecen. Both men have violent objections to Rózsa Hoffmann’s law on education.

Pokorni majored in history and Hungarian language and literature at the University of Budapest and began teaching high school in 1987. He became involved in politics at the very beginning of his career and was a Fidesz participant in the Round Table Discussions that preceded the regime change. In 1988 he took part in the establishment of the Association of Young Teachers and later was the founder of the Democratic Trade Union of Teachers, an organization still in existence.

He was minister of education in the first Orbán government (1998-2001) and, according to some people, was among the best in that post in the past twenty years. Pokorni was always considered to be a more moderate member of his party. In the American diplomatic papers released by WikiLeaks his name often appears as a possible successor after the voluntary or involuntary retirement of Viktor Orbán.

Perhaps because of his disagreements with Viktor Orbán Pokorni more or less retired from the national scene and in 2006 became mayor of District XII of Budapest. In 2010 most people were certain that Pokorni would once again be named minister of education because he was such an obvious choice for the job. However, Viktor Orbán gave the position to the Christian Democrats’ candidate for the job, Rózsa Hoffmann.

Pokorni has not hidden his feelings about Hoffmann’s activities. We have known for at least a year that Pokorni is not at all happy with her educational ideas. The first Pokorni criticism of Rózsa Hoffmann’s politics that I found dates to November 2010. Pokorni gave a talk at a conference in which he expressed his hope that Hoffmann “doesn’t want to destroy Hungarian education” just to undo the educational reforms that Pokorni approved of. Pokorni also said that “it is an illusion to think that the education of the 1970s was working well” and that therefore the Hungarian government must return to those practices.

The criticism became louder and louder. Practically not a week went by without a battle between Hoffmann and Pokorni. Now that the bill is at last before parliament, the criticism has come to a point where the survival of the bill in its present form is very much in question. I should mention here that Pokorni is the chairman of the parliamentary committee on education. So, the bill landed there first. László Posán, another critic of Hoffmann’s bill, is the vice-chairman of the same committee.

Because of Pokorni’s prominence both in Fidesz and in government I am more familiar with his political career and ideas than those of László Posán. However, I heard an interview with Posán a few months ago and was struck by how sensible he was.

Upon looking into his professional past I found that Posán also majored in history and Hungarian language and literature in Debrecen. He remained at the university to continue his studies and in 2000 received his Ph.D. He subsequently became a member of the faculty.

These two men most likely decided some time ago that Rózsa Hoffmann’s bill is unacceptable. It would set Hungarian education back decades. They also decided that the fallout from the bill would mean political suicide for Fidesz. Both teachers and parents are potential Fidesz voters and the bill is designed in such a way that it would alienate both of these groups. The first negative effect of the bill would become obvious by the end of 2013 and the early months of 2014. Just around the time of the next elections.

The committee on education led by these two men almost refused to pass the bill on for discussion by the full House. (In Hungarian they call this “parlamenti vitára nem találták alkalmasnak.”) Posán thought that the bill was so bad that it should never reach the floor in its present form. Pokorni was of the same opinion but “because of his personal loyalty” to Viktor Orbán he voted for discussion of the matter in the House. However, he added that he is planning to offer between 70 and 80 amendments that might make the current bill unrecognizable and naturally in his opinion better.

Viktor Orbán hit the ceiling. He took it as an attack on himself, on his policies, and on his government that Pokorni and Posán so openly oppose a bill presented by a member of his government. Hoffmann announced that anyone who opposes her bill “is voting for the return of the Gyurcsány and Bajnai governments” and practically accused Pokorni and Posán of anti-government activities. Pokorni in turn announced that Hoffmann shouldn’t be threatening members of parliament and compared her unfavorably to Kádár’s communists.

Viktor Orbán used rather strong words in describing this minor palace revolt. He said that “those who spit on the floor” can’t expect cooperation from him.

If only two people held views that challenged the government and if these views were confined to the education bill, it might not make all that much difference. But rumor has it that there are a number of Fidesz members who are unhappy with the way things are going. The economic situation is very grave and according to practically every analyst Hungary will be forced to go back to the IMF to ask for a line of credit. Although Viktor Orbán proudly announced in London that his government reduced Hungary’s sovereign debt by 9%, according to the latest reckoning the debt is back where it was at the time of the election: it is 82% of the GDP. The forint is still very weak, and it is likely that the Hungarian National Bank will be forced to raise interest rates 2-3%. No wonder that signs of disunity have appeared within Fidesz ranks.

Surely Viktor Orbán is afraid of losing the Christian Democratic votes and with them the two-thirds majority. So, he decided to support Rózsa Hoffmann. This compromise might be more expensive than Viktor Orbán thinks at the moment.

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Paul
Guest

Well, a slightly more positive outlook, at least.
But does this sort of thing really change anything? For OV to have any sort of serious setback we would need Jobbik, LMP, MSzP, DK AND a sizeable Fidesz faction to unite against the government.
This isn’t going to happen any time soon.
For Fidesz MPs to turn on OV they need to be sure that they will benefit more from being remembered as rebels against his government when it falls, compared to what they will lose (and suffer) by being seen as enemies by OV.
For this to happen to a significant number of MPs, OV’s got to be in a much worse situation than he’s in now.
My (considerable) experience of rebellions within political parties here in the UK tells me that the rats don’t get ready to jump ship until it’s listing badly enough for their feet to be getting seriously wet.

Jano
Guest

I’ve raised this question before, but what the bloody hell is the “Christian Democratic vote”???? This party in it’s current form has always been and continues to be a zero-morphism on the political palette, and nobody would even remember them had OV for some mysterious reason not formed an “alliance” with them. When I say alliance I am being sarcastic because in an alliance, both parties gain something. So any suggestion what’s in this for Fidesz?
My only guess is that they serve as some sort of political praetorian guard to OV. Their very existence on the political field entirely depends on him, so they are likely to be the most loyal servants of the prime minister inside and outside the government.

Vilmos
Guest

Fascinating (and frightening) to see the fate of the country so determined by the psychology of one man, oh so convinced that whatever idea he happens to be holding in his head at any given moment is right and true, and no dissent allowed.
The American comedian Stephen Colbert once said about Bush:
“The greatest thing about this man is he’s steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change; this man’s beliefs never will.”
With Orban, it seems that his beliefs may change between Monday and Wednesday, because of, in spite of, or with no connection at all to what happened on Tuesday, and he will insist/believe himself what he believes on Wednesday is absolutely correct and therefore is what he believed on Monday (no matter what evidence contradicts that). And if you express any dissent with Wednesday’s set of beliefs, well, you’re an enemy of the state because L’etat, c’est moi.
As conditions worsen and stress builds, it will be interesting to see how Fidesz deals with this, and how Orban deals with any dissenters. Purges?

Ron
Guest

Yesterday, I saw on ATV Egyenes Beszed a piece about Ovoda. The new law states that all kids need to go (as obligation) to ovoda at the age of three, currently five.
Unfortunately, there are not enough ovoda, and what they currently have, some of them have a backlog of maintenance.
I hear rumors that this was created on purpose. Some of these ovoda were transferred to a church, and bingo there was some money from the government to clear the backlog.
It seems that it is a dirty game that is played over the heads of kids.

Ron
Guest

Today on Budapost an article about VO and IMF.
http://budapost.eu/2011/11/orban-and-the-imf/#more-901
I wonder how VO will spin this one.

Ron
Guest

For people interested in the EUR/HUF development, please find graphic.
http://www.ecb.int/stats/exchange/eurofxref/html/eurofxref-graph-huf.en.html

Ron
Guest

Also in interesting piece on the Contrarian Hungarian re. educational bill and the opposition.
http://thecontrarianhungarian.wordpress.com/2011/11/17/controversial-educational-reform-to-be-passed-in-hungary/#more-1567

Ron
Guest

Reuters on the division of the Central Bank and potential reasons, why the Central Bank do not do a rate hike.
http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/11/16/us-hungary-rates-idUSTRE7AF1PO20111116

Odin's lost eye
Guest
I would not hold my breath about any serious opposition to the Victator forming within Fidesz. I have three reasons for this. The firstly there is the idea mooted in the House by the Speaker of the House. It was floated to get rid of Ferenc Gyurcsány’s new party, the Democratic Coalition. The idea is that when an MP resigns his party whip (or is expelled from a party) then that MP should lose their seat and be replaced by another from the party list of candidates. The second reason is that (at the moment) Fidesz MPs are only just beginning to get their ‘feet in the trough’ so their pocket books are not yet full enough and there is no real ‘Safe Haven’ (other than Gold) for them to hide their ‘ill gotten gains’. So long as they are on the ‘Gravy Train’ they will give the Victator their ‘support’. The third reason is the “Curse of Turan” . I have no belief in such things but I know many who do. The power over men’s minds exercised by assorted ‘Gully-Gully’ men and other ‘Ju-Jus’ is well known. Some say that his curse say that is will last for… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Jano: “what the bloody hell is the “Christian Democratic vote”????”
Maybe I wasn’t clear enough. I was talking about the votes of the Christian Democratic delegation in Parliament.

Paul
Guest

Éva – I’m sure Jano understood that, I think his was a more general question. As no actual KDNP candidates stood or were elected and nobody voted KDNP, how can there be a “KDNP vote”?
I think it was a rhetorical question born of frustration (which I share!), rather than any sort of comment on your article.

Paul
Guest

Vilmos – an excellent summary.
Your words should be tattooed on every Fidesz voter’s forehead – in reverse, so they read it every time they look in the mirror.
Wouldn’t make any difference, though. They voted for OV out of belief, there was no knowledge, understanding or logic involved. Check out JB’s posts for confirmation of this.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Paul: “I think it was a rhetorical question born of frustration (which I share!), rather than any sort of comment on your article.”
Oh, I didn’t take it this way. Orbán accepted Semjén’s demand five years ago for a separate caucus and now he is stuck with it. If this group of religious maniacs become dissatisfied they can make life miserable for Orbán.

Kirsten
Guest
Interesting developments. I think it does not matter whether the Fidesz dissenters are currently very strong. Currently OV appears to have control over most of Fidesz (and enough of the society) through the anti-Gyurcsany sentiment and nationalist propaganda (and this is what the Christian democrats are for in my interpretation: they offer a “decent, conservative, Christian” approach to nationalism, much more “civilised” than Jobbik, while addressing the same issue of national survival through turning back time), and with Fidesz officials certainly also by pecuniary means. But the group of democratic dissenters grows, and this makes it likely that an alternative set of people who could run the country emerges. I still do not hold any hopes with regard to Jobbik or Kadar oriented MSzP members, for me these are natural companions of Fidesz in an autocratic society and “guided democracy”. To change tack, what is most needed is a group of people that has a more “modern” vision, and what this blog tells me is that this group apparently grows to include also Fidesz people. These people should try to cooperate across the party spectrum, which (I am quite confident) will be the natural outcome after some time, with or… Read more »
Paul
Guest
That’s the problem with email and blogs, Éva, you never quite know how what you’ve written is going to be read. I’ve had some very strange moments on message boards because of this! This business of the KDNP caucus puzzles me. Did OV agree to it for some short-term gain and now finds himself stuck with them, as Éva suggests, or is it as Kirsten believes – a continuing means to and end. Did he make a tactical pact with them that he now regrets, or are they a deliberate part of his overall strategy? As always with OV, his actions and motivations are a mystery. Does he do whatever seems like a good idea from one day to the next (which is certainly what it looks like), or is he following some diabolical master plan? There was definitely a ‘master plan’ leading up to the elections, which he followed very determinedly (and with stunning success), but, now he’s in power, there appears to be no plan at all. At least with Hitler you knew what he was doing, he set it all out in Mein Kampf. Is there an Orbán equivalent of MK around somewhere? It would be nice… Read more »
Kirsten
Guest

Paul, I think one can never be entirely sure whether the “means to an end” can be controlled or not as those players can never be sure whether they are moving themselves or being moved. (Mysterious sentence but perhaps comprehensible.) But KNDP to me appears to be a very convenient “means”, although they themselves and possibly also OV think that they “mean every word they say”. For me this is not contradicting, something that I can do deliberately may come “very handy” to others.
Even if OV had something similar to Mein Kampf (which I very much doubt), it needs the according machinery to do it. And in that Hungarians (which testifies to their advantage) have not yet shown equal zeal to Germans (apology to the Germans who might feel offended).

Member

Kirsten, Paul: I think Orban is an “ad hoc guy”. I honestly do not see a vision form him. Of course he says that his vision is a fantastic Hungary with no debt, no dependency, full employment where all True Hungarians will be paid plenty to take care of their vegetable gardens and pigs, with weekly meet and greet after the Sunday prayers. I have even better visions for Hungary but unfortunately they are unrealistic, just like Orban’s great vision. THe difference between him and I is that I will not paint this glorious picture and the easy road to get there, then turn around and tell others to “not listen to what I say” because it is impossible and my words are just there to dupe the Hungarians.

Johnny Boy
Guest

Paul: “words should be tattooed on every Fidesz voter’s forehead”
Go tattoo it on your own wife.

Ron
Guest

Forget VO and Fidesz. Putin will be the new strong man. And there will be no EU, but Eurasia Union. Back to the good old days.
http://www.euractiv.com/europes-east/moscow-fleshes-eurasian-union-plans-news-509042

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Hungary is returning to the IMF to negotiate. Very interesting to read how the decision is presented. Hungary’s new agreement with the IMF will increase the financial independence of Hungary!!! They really think that people are stupid.
See: http://www.kormany.hu/hu/nemzetgazdasagi-miniszterium/hirek/magyarorszag-forduloponthoz-erkezett

flogger
Guest

off-topic (sorry, Eva 🙂
does anyone know of active facebook group(s) for expats in Hungary (those not just about parties or leisure) ?

Paul
Guest

Good to have you back on form, JB, you haven’t made me laugh like that in ages!
Éva – they do. But they’re wrong, people aren’t stupid, they’re just shell-shocked from 8 years of black propaganda, followed by a year and a half of incompetent madness.
They are standing on the brink of disaster, too stupefied to think or act.

Jano
Guest

Paul, Eva: Paul is right, every now and then when I read about KDNP this frustration gets me, I totally agree with your post this time. I disagree though that they would held OV hostage. I think that they wouldn’t do a thing without OV and the purpose of their mere existence is to provide OV with some leverage against his own inner opposition in Fidesz. Having a separate caucus was a very welcome by OV, and it also had some advantages in the committees.

Paul
Guest
The IMF thing in English: Hungary starts talks on new type of cooperation with IMF MTI – Econews Thursday, November 17, 2011, 5:15 PM CET Hungary’s government is starting negotiations on a new type of cooperation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the course of scheduled consultations, the National Economy Ministry told MTI on Thursday. The ministry said the new type of agreement, unlike the old one, would not increase state debt, as it would not involve taking out a loan but taking out insurance that would boost investor confidence in the country. Hungary’s economy has undergone a renewal in the past year and a half: the country has ended older types of cooperation that limit its economic independence, and now the focus is on growth, the ministry said. “To achieve [growth], all available instruments must be used,” it added. “For growth, we must first defend our independence. That is, that we can finance Hungary from markets,” the ministry said. “This has been made difficult by the prolonged crisis in the eurozone,” it conceded. The ministry said a new type of cooperation with the IMF, tailored to the Hungarian economy and the country’s own interests would be beneficial. Unlike… Read more »
Member
Today János Lázár the FIDESZ high muckamuck (head of the parliamentary “fraction”) also came up with a list modifications to Hoffmann’s education bill. I don’t know how this fits into the puzzle. Are they attacking their own so it doesn’t look like external critisism? These guys are puzzling. The list is an unusual 46 point list of proposed changes. Many of them stupid and/or lightweight, like the mandatory swimming in physed classes, with a lengthy explanation of the benefits of the oxygen to the body or changing the grade 2 from “gyenge” to “elegseges” (“weak” to “satisfactory”). But many of the proposed changes are even more disgusting than the orginal Hoffmann bill regarding the roles the government wants to take over from the parents. For instance the “family kindergartens” could not replace the mandatory Ovoda attendance (goverment controlled kindergartens) or Lazar proposes a centralized government test for high schools admittance, taking away the right form the schools to select. But my my real fav is the following. If you thought that only Hoffmann is killing off your kids self confidence, you were wrong. My kitchen sink translation goes here: Original: “(1) Children *exceeding the expectations relative to their abilities* must… Read more »
Paul
Guest
I found this bit really chilling (quoted from the Contrarian Hungarian): “Hoffman’s document also explicitly states that it is not the case that the new bill regulating the public educational system would violate freedom of opinion. The truth is that, “instead of a value-neutral – decisively liberal – mentality, the bill introduces a value-based school system.” The school system would continue to remain neutral of ideology, but this does not mean neutrality of values, the explanation continues. “The new public education bill represents values around which societies of countries belonging to the European cultural group are organized: diligent, honest work, honor, family, love for country, and order that facilitates living with others as well as real liberty. It provides ideologically committed church and private institutions a number of rights due to their ideological commitment, and prescribes the possibility of elective instruction in faith even in state and municipal institutions.”” How on earth is a system that is “decisively liberal” seen as “value-neutral”?? Surely even these morons know that having a liberal outlook is inherently value based – how could it be otherwise? And equally stupid is the statement that “The school system would continue to remain neutral of ideology” whilst… Read more »
florian
Guest

Ah Paul the Education Bill is an oxymoron if ever there was one- with the emphasis on the moron.

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